Painting the Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis

by Bryce W. Robinson

Often on art blogs and websites I see the step by step process of the artist’s latest work. I have never done such a thing, and for personal reasons, however I decided to give some insight into how I go about putting together a watercolor painting. For my latest work I decided to paint the most well known hawk in North America, and a personal favorite, Buteo jamaicensis.

For B, every painting begins with a pencil, no matter the medium. I sketch the contour of the subject, solving any problems with proportion and placement before laying down anything permanent.

After I am pleased with the form of the piece, and my excitement and vision for the end product begins to bud, I begin laying down light paint layers to establish the base for color and depth.

I get extremely excited when the painting begins to gain depth. By bouncing around the painting, I get into a great rhythm and keep the formation of the picture balanced.

The eyes are always my favorite to begin working with. After the first layers of the eyes are drawn, the bird has some semblance of life. I can then begin analyzing the particulars of where to add and shape to create a natural looking bird. Also, I always make sure to have the catch light in the eye, positioned properly with balance in both eyes. This is certainly a challenge, and can make or break a painting. With practice it becomes intuitive, as is the case with most things.

The process of painting with watercolor is different from oil and acrylic. With the latter two mediums, you start dark, building out the light. In watercolor, you start light and build in the shadows. I am not sure which process is easier, or which I like better, but at the moment, I am loving the watercolor. I tend to keep the painting bland and monochromatic as I build the depth. When I get a bird that looks in place, I then begin adding the colors that are the highlights, such as the eye color and beak in this bird. Once these colors are added, the home stretch begins as I meticulously scrutinize the detail until I am satisfied with the ending. Often, I am not satisfied, but I recognize that if I continue to try and manipulate the painting to my liking, I may ruin it beyond repair. It is a fine balance between knowing when to stop, and going to far. This is a problem I am working on at the moment. Always something to learn.

Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis. 11x15" watercolor on paper.

Currently at work here in the Mojave, I am watching a few Red-tailed Hawk nests. Today I noticed that one female has started to incubate, and in a months time, 28-32 days to be precise, chicks will hatch. This painting is in honor of the cyclical ritual of life, and a symbol of luck to the prospective parents of the hatchlings.